Fibrant orders more equipment from current supplier

SALISBURY — Despite plans to switch to different equipment that General Manager Mike Jury said is more reliable, Fibrant continues to order from its original provider, according to a Zhone company spokesman.

The city of Salisbury has ordered more than 500 ONT boxes from Zhone since February, including an order for 160 boxes on July 30, said Brian Caskey, chief marketing officer for Zhone Technologies in Oakland, Calif.

“We really have tried to take good care of the customer,” Caskey said. “There must be enough confidence in the equipment that they are reordering.”

Optical network terminals, or ONT boxes, are located on customers’ homes and businesses. Fibrant is the city’s new high-speed broadband utility that competes with private companies to sell Internet, cable TV and phone services to Salisbury residents.

Jury told the Post in June he wants to sell Fibrant’s Zhone equipment, which cost the city more than $1 million, and replace it with a different brand that he says is more reliable. City Council passed the Fibrant budget July 1, including a $788,000 line item for Calix.

Jury said at the time he planned to ask City Council for the go-ahead to remove Fibrant’s Zhone access gear and ONT boxes and replace them with equipment from Calix but has not made the request yet. Access gear transmits video, Internet and phone signals from Fibrant’s technical center on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue to homes and businesses.

When asked about the recent Zhone orders, Jury said he and his team continue to assess their options. 

“We are still doing our due diligence and assessing the situation to ensure we are making the correct decision for the city,” Jury said.

He said he could say more after Labor Day.

Caskey said Zhone is happy to continue providing Fibrant with equipment that he called top of the line.

“They are growing and continue to deploy our equipment,” he said. “We have worked hard to make sure that this a good, stable network.”

Fibrant had been plagued by several lengthy outages but hasn’t gone down for an extended period recently. Jury said in June that he updated Zhone software for more stability for customers.

When Jury first publicly identified the Zhone access gear as a problem in December 2012, the company defended its product and said Fibrant has had more challenges than other built-from-scratch networks.

Jury has called Zhone’s equipment unreliable, saying the access gear has not performed as promised and failed in every outage the network has experienced since Fibrant went live in December 2010.

Fibrant is using Zhone’s flagship MXK platform, which has been a “tremendous success” worldwide, Caskey said. Zhone has deployed more than 4,000 of the same units around the globe, he said.

Under state law, the city is required to award contracts to the lowest bidder. Zhone won the Fibrant contract in 2009 with a low bid of $2 million for equipment, engineering and construction of a passive optical network, or GPON, that brings fiber-optic cabling and signals to 5,000 homes and businesses.

Zhone’s bid was nearly $300,000 lower than the next lowest bid.

By December 2012, Zhone had billed the city $1.2 million, including $186,929 for access gear and about $1 million for other equipment including ONT boxes.

Since Jan. 1, Zhone has invoiced the city $39,679 for ONT boxes, Assistant City Manager John Sofley said. The city had existing credits that it has applied to the invoices, Sofley said.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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